Sunday, 16 October 2011

Do We Still Need School Librarians?

Last April, the Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board was ready to close the libraries, disperse the book collections and computers to classrooms, and dispense with their teacher librarians and technicians.  The reason was that with the Internet and Google, there was no need to have a physical library.

But as Seth Godin proclaims in his blog, the kids need libraries not at all, but need librarians more than ever. The school librarian is needed to be "the interface between the reams of data and the untrained but motivated user." Seth's Blog.

This year I've taken on full-time responsibilities in our school library. I've been asking myself: Do people care whether or not the teacher-librarian stays around?

In the recent past, teachers have wanted students to use the library to select books or to use its computers. Students used the computers to:
·         do research using Google
·         do word processing
·         print their work

None of these services required the use of the teacher-librarian.

Here is what I see:
·         students who don’t know how to find a book in the library
·         students who don’t even know that databases exist
·         students whose note-taking skills consist of cut and paste
·         students who don’t have the skills to be successful in an increasingly digital culture
·         students who are doing assignments which only ask that they copy information to fill in the blanks

We've been trying to restructure our library program to encourage collaboration, using the Together for Learning document as our template. Where we have found success is in communicating what we can do for teachers and students and offer a variety of collaborative models, from whole units to mini-lessons which address some of the issues listed above:

·         How to use the library catalogue and Novelist to find a book
·         Introduction to databases
·         Academic Integrity
·         How to use Google effectively
·         Creating plagiarism-proof assignments

Dealing with the Pain of Change

Unfortunately, for some, the reaction has been: We can't just book the computers, anymore? Others still would like to bring their classes down to use the space, but not to use the teacher-librarian. They find that the mini-lesson is something that they have to do, like a hurdle in a running race, to have access to the library space.

There is always a resistance to change because it means temporarily having to do more work. Why do we need to promote change? We have to change before change is forced upon us. (I think of Peter the Great stating that he was going to drag his backward Muscovy kicking and screaming into the 20th century.) The reality is that the Internet has changed everything, and that we need to recognize the need to teach 21st century skills.

On the other hand, it has been encouraging that most teachers, in working with the teacher-librarians, have seen what we can do. We are very pleased that the majority of the teachers at our school have been willing to give it a try.

And I think here is where the light comes in.

Each time we work together, we plan, we teach and then we reflect on how the lesson went. I hope, each time, we'll be able to learn from each other and improve our ability to help students. What also happens is the message that the teacher-librarian is a valuable partner in learning gets passed along.

I have to keep in mind that it's important to take this in small steps. Change comes slowly. But there have also been some surprising converts to the collaboration cause, so that gives me reason to hope.

Godin, Seth. "Seth's Blog: The future of the library." Seth's Blog. N.p., 16 May 2011. Web. 22 Oct. 2011.

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